(The Canadian Press)

(The Canadian Press)

Liberals turn over thousands of pages on WE decision, lawyers now vetting docs

Committee members are hoping the documents will shed light on the WE discussions

The federal Liberal government has handed over thousands of pages of documents related to the WE controversy to a House of Commons committee, which lawyers are now vetting for personal information and cabinet secrets.

The finance committee demanded the documents last month as it probes whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s relationship with WE Charity influenced the government’s ill-fated decision to have the organization run a federal student-volunteer program.

Committee members are hoping the documents will shed light on the discussions that led to the decision to have WE run the Canada Student Services Grant, before the deal was cancelled amid controversy in early July.

“People are asking a lot of questions,” NDP finance critic Peter Julian said in an interview. “There’s been a lot of contradictions in testimony. So the documents should be revealing a lot more of what the real answers are.”

Yet while the Liberals turned more than 5,000 pages over to the committee ahead of Saturday’s deadline, it wasn’t clear when they would be released to members as committee lawyers go through them to prevent the release of protected information.

“We don’t know,” Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said during a news conference on Sunday when asked when committee members would get the documents. ”We have asked. They have not given us the timeline.”

Committee chairman Wayne Easter, a Liberal MP, predicted the documents would be released in the coming days to members as additional lawyers from the public service have been brought in to help review them for cabinet secrets and other information.

Even after the documents are released, however, there will could be disagreements about why certain information was withheld.

While Poilievre and Julian suggested they were keeping the door open to challenging any redactions, Easter said the vetting was being conducted by the professional public service — and noted the tradition of Parliament respecting cabinet confidence.

Usually prepared for ministers to aid government deliberations and decision-making, documents marked as cabinet confidences hold closely guarded political secrets and are legally protected from unauthorized release.

Trudeau has previously faced pressure to waive cabinet confidence when it came to allegations he tried to pressure then-justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould on a deferred prosecution agreement with Quebec engineering firm SNC-Lavalin.

“We respect the integrity of the public service,” Easter said when asked about the lawyers redacting cabinet confidences in the WE documents. “That’s why there is no political involvement in the redacting of these documents. That’s why the law clerk is involved.”

The Liberals have been embroiled in controversy since it was revealed on June 25 that WE had been selected to run the Canada Student Services Grant, which promised up to $5,000 toward the education costs of students who volunteered during COVID-19.

The sole-sourced agreement with WE was to pay one of its foundations up to $43.5 million to administer a grant program designed to encourage students to sign up for volunteer work related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau have since apologized for not recusing themselves from cabinet’s discussions about the agreement before it was awarded to WE given their respective families’ ties to the Toronto-based charity.

Trudeau has spoken at six WE Day events since becoming prime minister, while his mother and brother have been paid almost $300,000 and reimbursed about $200,000 in expenses for appearing at WE events. Trudeau’s wife has also had expenses covered.

Morneau, meanwhile, acknowledged last month that he repaid WE about $41,000 in sponsored travel for him and his family to view the charity’s humanitarian projects in Ecuador and Kenya in 2017.

Yet the government has insisted that the decision was based on a recommendation from the non-partisan public service following its conclusion that WE was the only organization capable of running the grant program.

Opposition critics, meanwhile, are also training their sights on an agreement between a Crown corporation and a company employing the husband of Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford.

The agreement between the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. and MCAP, where Telford’s husband Rob Silver is an executive vice-president, involves the administering of a rent-assistance program for small businesses affected by COVID-19.

The Prime Minister’s Office has said Telford established clear ethical walls between herself and MCAP in January, even before COVID-19 shook the country’s economy and led to the creation of the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program.

But Poilievre questioned why the government didn’t simply ask the Canada Revenue Agency to run the rent-assistance program given it is already managing the federal wage subsidy for businesses struggling during the pandemic.

“CMHC, which is strangely running this program, exists for the sole purpose of providing affordable housing. Not commercial real estate,” Poilievre said.

“Now, of course, the easy way to deliver this program would have been through CRA. CRA already had a program stood up to deliver a wage subsidy.”

Audrey-Anne Coulombe, a spokeswoman for CMHC, said in a statement Sunday that the federal housing agency had decided to go with an outside sub-administrator because it “does not have the internal capacity to stand up the program in short order.”

Coulombe said CMHC sought bids from two financial institutions and chose MCAP because its proposal was stronger and cost less. She said Silver was not involved in contract negotiations or the delivery of services.

Easter expressed concern about the committee getting distracted by opposition “fishing” efforts and not focusing on its main task of preparing for next year’s federal budget and overseeing COVID-19 spending.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

charityfederal government

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Seniors in the Interior Health region can book their COVID-19 vaccinations starting Monday, March 8, 2021 at 7 a.m. (File photo)
Seniors in Interior Heath region can book COVID-19 shots starting Monday

Starting March 8 the vaccination call centre will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

C.E. “Ned” Bentley owned a garage on Shaughnessy Avenue, now Lakeshore Drive in Summerland. Bentley later went on to serve on Summerland’s council and was recognized with the Good Citizen Award in 1939. (Summerland Museum photo)
Former Summerland reeve once ran garage

C.E. “Ned” Bentley was a prominent figure in Summerland’s past.

Interior Health reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5. (Black Press Files)
Interior Health reports 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5

Over 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered provincewide.

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen is offering home compost bins at reduced prices until March 25. (Contributed)
Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen offers compost bins at wholesale costs

Pricing offer at participating stores in place until March 25

Council has left some grant money in reserves in case there is a need later in the year. File photo
COVID makes some of the 2021 grant decisions for Princeton council

Municipality doles out funds while striving to meet policy

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Multiple people were injured at a Vernon home following an early-morning break-in Saturday, March 6, 2021. (Black Press file photo)
Multiple people left injured following break-and-enter in Vernon

Police believe the early-morning break-in was targeted and not a threat to the general public

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Second COVID-19 outbreak declared at Kelowna General Hospital

One patient and one staff member on Unit have tested positive for the virus.

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

A Coldstream resident who found an owl struggling on her property in March 2021 is now spreading awareness of about the knock-on effects of rodent poisoning. (Kathy Renaud photo)
Okanagan owl ‘fighting for her life’ after ingesting rat poison

Coldstream resident warns against the use of rodenticide due to risk of secondary poisoning in raptors

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Fire ripped through a mobile home on Boucherie Road in West Kelowna on March. 6. (Phil McLachlan - West Kelowna News)
‘My whole life just went up in smoke’; Fire consumes Okanagan mobile home

RCMP confirmed that there were no injuries due to the fire

Most Read